What’s The Best Japanese Language Electronic Dictionary?

I get all kinds of weird questions in my e-mail inbox. Sometimes they’re creepy, sometimes they’re hilarious, sometimes they’re interesting, and sometimes they’re a part of a pattern. This is one of those patterns. A few times a month I’ll get the following question:

What is the best Japanese Language electronic dictionary?

Once I get the same question too many times, there’s a good likelihood that I’ll just write the answer via a post here, which is exactly what’ I’m doing. So, what is the best Japanese Language electronic dictionary out there? Let’s find out.

The Best Japanese Language Electronic Dictionary Is… Not a Japanese Language Electronic Dictionary…

Guh-what? You’d think that if you were in the market to buy an electronic dictionary you’d buy an electronic dictionary… at least in the “traditional” sense. You can see pictures of them above. Now, for sure, they do the things they’re supposed to do, but that’s about it. If you buy one, you probably won’t be disappointed on this front. You’ll be able to look up words, see sentences, and in some hear audio. Not too shabby.

For me, though, I don’t feel like that’s enough, at least not in this day and age. Even though these do exactly what you want them to do, I don’t think they’re the best tool for the job. Here’s why:

  • They’re big (though the big screen could be considered a plus)
  • They’re bulky, try putting one of the regular sized ones in your pocket
  • They aren’t versatile
  • They’re expensive (approximately $200-$400+)

By now, I bet you’ve already guessed the “electronic dictionary” that I’d recommend.

Get An iPod Touch / iPhone Instead Of a Japanese Electronic Dictionary

Instead of a Japanese language electronic dictionary, I highly recommend you get an iPhone or iPod Touch. I think it’s an easy decision, but that’s also because I’m an Apple fanboy. Still, I think anyone will see the logic here.

  • An iPod Touch comes in at $179 (if you buy it at Costco) or $199 from the Apple store. This is the same price as the lower end models of the Japanese electronic dictionaries, but you get so much more.
  • You can download a dictionary application to your iPhone or iPod Touch. My favorite is “Japanese” because everything is stored locally (i.e. no need for an internet connection to look things up). This app is $16, which is pretty expensive for an iPhone app, but well worth it if you were planning on putting down $200-$400+ on an electronic dictionary. Update: A lot of people seem to like “Kotoba” as well. I haven’t tried it, but it seems to be highly recommended (and free!)
  • There are tons of other Japanese language learning related applications in the iTunes store as well. There are so many different things you can get (and who knows what will come out in the future), making it an awesome (mobile) platform for practicing your Japanese.
  • You can download Japanese Podcasts to your iPod / iPhone, and listen to them for continued practice while you’re driving, sitting around, at work, at school, etc.
  • You can do other things with it, so you aren’t just pinned down to using it to study Japanese (you know, all the things an iPod Touch / iPhone are supposed to do, right?).

So, basically it’s better, more mobile, has apps, and costs less. What is there not to like? Granted, regular Japanese electronic dictionaries have their perks, too, I’m sure, but I personally don’t see the purpose of getting one when you could do this instead.

If that didn’t convince you, watch this video, which just says the same things you just read all over again.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AejPoyWqoFk']

Anyone else doing the same thing? Any angry Japanese electronic dictionary users out there? Let me know in the comments what you think.

  • Anonymous

    The kanji recognition for this is many times better than the Chinese input on the iPhone (which is the only way to input kanji into free apps like Kotoba.  Though some paid apps include their own kanji recognition.)

  • http://twitter.com/5tarburst Dianne A

    I just came across this article and I saw that some people are still asking for advice on what dictionary to get. Check this site out: http://www.japaneselanguagetools.com

    I haven’t bought one since Kotoba for iPhone is enough for me at this point, but I’ll consider making a purchase when I can study Japanese full-time (which will be in a few months). I’ve read reviews on it on a couple of forums, and they say it’s pretty good. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Grzenio Grzenio

    Tangorin (http://tangorin.com/) is the best Japanese Dictionary. The most up to date, most features, and let’s you create your own vocabulary lists.

    Also, a kanji multi-element search not only for kanji but words from other dictionaries too.

  • shibalsekya

    hi, i was studying Japanese Language at university in France and i was student in Japan at Kyoto University. My speciality is Japanese Language and Japanalogy.

    Here is a fact:

    Most of university students in Japan (Japanese  people) who are learning English or another language (French, German, Italian, Spanish…) have an electronic dictionary. Even pre/middle/high-school students.

    In my university in France, most of students are using a electronic dictionary even my professors.Why ? Because we spend all the time to search words, kanji radical, sentences…maybe 4-5 hours a day.

    Paper dictionary: its a waste of time!Smart phone application: its not easy to use, poor features, battery life limit ! 

    Online dictionaries : Our professors do not recommend to use google search engine or online dictionary because the contents are mostly created by non-professional, students so the Japanese contents is not correct. You can use internet but ask to a Japanese people if you are not sure about the meaning or how to use each words, sentence, phrase.

    If Japanese studies is serious for you, you have to buy an electronic dictionary: 
    http://www.denshi-jisho.com

    Also i recommend you to buy a dictionary of Japanese grammar (not include in an electronic dictionary): try to search 日本語文型事典

    Hope my advices will be usefull for you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Fetabrown Faith Helen Fury Brown

    Hear, hear.  *And* one relatively moderate drop of an electronic dictionary can be it’s end.   The iPhone/iPod Touch has masses of protective cover options and mine is still doing very well after two years of abuse.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Longcats errywhere.

  • Vincent

    I need a Japanese electronic dictionary for my Japanese exams this semester (studing at Dutch University). So I can’t use an iPhone/iPod Touch, because you might use the internet to cheat.

  • Sebastian

    I have read a number of the comments on this article and I have to say I actually agree with Koichi to some extent.

    I have an electronic dictionary (CASIO EX-Word Dataplus 5 XD-A6500), an Iphone 4S (had a HTC android device originally), a Macbook Pro and also a Nintendo DS Lite, as well as the Sonomama kanji dictionary “game” (it’s not a game though, is it). Since I have pretty much every device I could ever need, I am in a decent position to post a well-rounded critique.

    I was very lucky to have my friend buy a denshi jisho off amazon japan for me (second hand) and give it to me when I arrived in Japan for my study abroad. As a result, it only cost me about £160 for the device (it probably would’ve cost £250 had I bought it brand new in Japan and considerably more had I shipped it over).

    Had I been forced to pay over £200 for the device, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Yes, it is useful but no it isn’t perfect. A lot of words in the Japanese-Japanese dictionary section are not in the Japanese-English or English-Japanese sections. I’m sure some of you commenting here are Japanese masters but not everybody is at that point so having JP-EN and EN-JP dictionaries that are seriously lacking is a big drawback.

    Further, the example sentences in my denshi jisho are (apparently) terrible. I’ve lost count of the times that my Japanese friends have looked at example sentences and said “Yeah.. we would probably never say that/use that expression in real life”. Perhaps I just don’t have the right dictionaries installed but for the price, is it too much to ask? They want me to pay an extra £40 to install more dictionaries?

    Japanese electronic dictionaries are, let’s face it, made for Japanese people to learn English. My electronic dictionary is packed full of probably fantastic features but only about 40% are directly relevant to me. As my Japanese has progressed, I have moved onto the full Japanese dictionaries (including the business ones, computer terminology one and the scientific ones) but for many people they just won’t be necessary.

    My final thought is this:

    What’s the point of paying all that money when you can get pretty much the same features for free on the internet? Using the radical search on a website like jisho.org is actually very beneficial because it forces you to learn the radicals in order to find the kanji you are looking for.

    You can learn the stroke order from the same website or use a free application like “Tagaini Jisho” on windows/mac (linux as well?) which has stroke orders for the vast majority of kanji built in.

    Everybody (not everybody but you know what I mean) has (or has access to) a computer, and more and more are getting smartphones as the technology becomes cheaper and more advanced. Why buy one of these devices when you can get 90% of what they offer from other (often free) applications and devices that you may already own.

    Some of you are knocking Koichi for trying to be a hipster or something but I think the people dismissing smartphones and iPhones are the ones trying to be hipsters.

    I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of Japanese language learners are not at the point that makes an electronic dictionary worth the purchase so why try to convince them otherwise? You’re not being paid by CASIO or Canon (or at least I hope not).

    Bottom line –

    *denshi jishos have keyboards? smartphones have keyboards (no they are not terrible so don’t make a meal out of nothing.

    *denshi jisho’s have expansive dictionaries with very good definitions? smartphones have access to the internet and with it a wide variety of websites (in both English and in Japanese) within which the same information can usually be found.

    *denshi jisho’s have 200 hours battery life? Nobody stays out of the house for that long so what’s so bad about charging your phone?

    *denshi jisho’s work as an MP3 player and have SD card slots? smartphones do the same thing and often come with an SD card included as part of the mobile contract plan.

    *denshi jisho’s have better handwriting recognition? True, but searching by radicals doesn’t take that much time.

    Basically, I just don’t think there are enough reasons to justify buying an electronic dictionary. I wish I hadn’t bought one now because I hardly use it.

    Just my opinion though – feel free to disagree!

  • d

    I disagree too u cant compare an app with a denshi jisho for God´s sake! its totally different! denshi jisho is the best investment if u really wanna learn japanese ipod-iphone not good for that

  • Allyson Larimer

    I know this is an old discussion but I just wanted to chime in.
    I work as an in-house interpreter. I know some other interpreters who use an iPad or an iPhone to look up words while interpreting but I really have never gotten then hang of it. I need my electronic dictionary. It is faster and more comprehensive than just about anything I have tried. (The ALC app may be a close second) I also work a lot in manufacturing and there are too many places where I don’t have signal for me to rely on a phone. Lastly, if I am in the meeting room, messing around on my phone just makes me look unprofessional.

    That being said, if I were still in college, I would probably just use my phone.

  • Jacinda Wilson

    I love my denshi dictionary – but that’s just because I’ve had it for almost 6 years now and I know its functions so well. Had smart phones and their apps been as accessible and advanced back when I bought my denshi jisho I would probably not have bothered with the denshi jisho….

    I have downloaded a free jisho onto my phone for the accessibility for when I don’t have my denshi on me – but it’s pretty well neglected when I’m at home. Then again before my denshi jisho I bought an $80 Nelson dictionary. It still gets used occasionally… but for the main part its neglected because my denshi jisho replaced it – so who knows :)

  • Vanessa

    I appreciate the input on your ipod stuff, and you make good points, but I also see flaws from further research/reviews. It’s fine that you gave your opinion, but I and many others I’m sure were looking for something related to shopping for the Electronic Dictionarys (what makes a winner or loser device). This is just a reader/random stranger’s critic, might want to add a little more related info to the subject inquired.

  • Seito

    Useless post. If you are serious about studying language, there is no substitute for a good Japanese/English/(Chinese) electronic dictionary. They have many features not available in any trendy app. Such as: history, quick jump, cross-reference, on-screen writing recognition, vocabulary by category, phrases by category, etc, etc, etc. The best online dictionary is free: Denshi Jisho. But it has no Chinese, little history, and requires that you be online to use it.

  • Katharina

    I am so glad to have found this entry on “electronic dictionaries”! I downloaded “Japanese” and “Kotoba” and especially the “Kanji handwriting tool” from “Japanese” is what I needed and why I would have bought an electronic dicitionary. It feels good to know to have saved about 150 Euros! Thank you so much for the hint!

  • daven

    great just what we need another useless advertisement

  • Ian

    I totally understand, I would rather use my iPhone instead of a dedicated electronic dictionary, but all my professors don’t allow cell phones during class. (I know right? :P) So I just use it out of necessity, because for some reason they’re OK…